McDonald, Royals are on rebound

June 26, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- When last he saw the Kansas City Royals, Johnny Oates knew it was a good time to get out of town.

Which is one way of saying the Orioles don't expect to see many similarities when they open a six-game homestand against the Royals tonight at Camden Yards. And if Ben McDonald has a personal scouting report from earlier in the season, he should forget it at least as fast as he put his last start out of his mind.

The Orioles won three straight from the Royals in Kansas City April 21-23, but that was in what is now considered the "other season" for manager Hal McRae's club.

"No matter what, when things are going like that, you know you're not that bad," Oates said of the Royals' disastrous start. "Any major-league team, no matter how bad, is going to win at least one-third of its games. And you knew they weren't a bad team, so you knew they had a lot of making up to do."

If it was a fortunate time for the Orioles to visit Kansas City, it also was a nice time to leave. The Royals, after a 1-16 start, began to mend their ways two days later.

Speaking of which, McDonald would like to mend his ways, too -- but not in a way that some people might believe. As frustrated as he was by his last start, which resulted in an 8-2 loss to the New York Yankees, McDonald (7-5, 4.56 ERA) is not looking to make changes, only a few minor refinements.

"I'm just trying to put that game out of my mind," said the 6-foot-7 righthander. "I'm concentrating on the positive aspects.

"I'm healthy, I feel good and I should get 19 starts in before the All-Star break. That was my goal going into the season -- to get my feet wet, get my innings in and then go get them in the second half."

If everything falls in line, McDonald could surpass his major-league high of 126 1/3 innings before the midseason break. He has already logged 98 2/3 , putting him well ahead of the 225-inning pace the Orioles had in their preseason log book.

"In a lot of ways this has been like my rookie year [1991] all over again," said McDonald. "But this is the first time I've been able to go out there and pitch every fifth day right from the start.

"I'm learning every time I go out, and that's positive. I'd like to win at least three of these next four [starts] and then go from there."

McDonald got nothing but encouragement from Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman after his last outing.

When he took me out, Johnny said he thought I had great stuff, that if I had that every time out I'd win a lot of games," said McDonald. "And Bozzie told me 'I don't want you to change anything.'

"That's reassuring. I feel my changeup's better than it's ever been and I've had a good curveball lately. I've just been getting hurt by the long ball.

"Every time I made a mistake against the Yankees it ended up over the fence. Earlier, when I was 5-and-0, they would miss those pitches or pop them up."

The Orioles return home tonight after a three-game trip to Milwaukee that was highly successful, despite yesterday's 1-0 setback. Rick Sutcliffe (9-6) was a hard-luck loser yesterday, when the Orioles couldn't muster a run against Ricky Bones (4-3) and reliever Doug Henry.

"These guys [the Orioles] just got finished beating two pretty good pitchers [Jaime Navarro and Bill Wegman]," said Sutcliffe. "Sometimes there's going to be games where we have to pick them up. There are going to be times when they get shut down. But if you can pitch seven innings and only give up three runs, you're going to win a lot of games with this club."

Though he would never admit to any satisfaction from a loss, there was much to be encouraged about. "That's the best one he's thrown in a while," said Bosman. "It was good to see him bounce back with one like that."

A walk to Paul Molitor, a hit-and-run single to B.J. Surhoff and a sacrifice fly by Robin Yount was all the damage inflicted on Sutcliffe -- but it was all the Brewers needed.

"I really didn't care if I walked Yount," said Sutcliffe, "but if I kept him in the infield, I had a chance. I'd been pitching him away all day, and came up with a fastball [trying to get a pop fly], but he got it in the air. That's one of the reasons why he's on his way to Cooperstown."

Still, even Sutcliffe had to admit something positive came from the loss. "Up until now, when I've gotten beat I've really been bad," he said. "A couple of times I didn't give us a chance."

This time he gave the Orioles plenty of time to score -- but Bones didn't given them many opportunities. Each side managed only five hits -- and the Orioles' best chance came in the ninth inning, when Mark McLemore opened with a walk and Cal Ripken extended his hitting streak to 13 games with an infield single. Sam Horn just missed connecting against Henry, sending a long fly ball to the warning track in left-centerfield, to send McLemore to third with one out. But Henry overpowered Mike Devereaux and Joe Orsulak to end it.

The loss dropped the second-place Orioles a full game behind the Toronto Blue Jays and deprived them of their first series sweep in Milwaukee since 1980. But considering that the losing pitchers in the first two games for Milwaukee (Navarro and Wegman) had a combined 13-1 career record against the Orioles, the trip was highly successful.

And now they return home to play 12 of the next 15 games leading up to the All-Star break.

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